How to have difficult conversations

Difficult conversations are hard but often necessary. Discussing money, living arrangements or relationships is stressful for many people. It may seem easier to simply ignore the problem or postpone the conversation, but this rarely benefits you or your recipient. To help minimise the discomfort and make these discussions more approachable, here are seven tips on how to initiate and guide difficult conversations.

Plan ahead
Before you confront someone, it’s best to know what you want to talk about and what you want to come from it. Think about what you intend to say, how to say it and how to anticipate how they may respond. This way, you will find it easier to communicate well under pressure, even if you’re feeling flustered.

Be direct
Don’t be afraid to get to the point quickly. As much as beating around the bush may seem like the easier option, it can convolute your intentions and confuse both you and the person you’re speaking with.

Say what you mean
When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to say things you don’t mean. A word that slips out at the wrong moment could easily offend or hurt someone. To avoid this, it’s important to be patient with yourself, and the other person, to ensure you have the time you need to speak clearly.

Be specific
Clarity is key. Make it clear why you are having the conversation. Give the person clear and specific examples to back up your point. Try to ensure that you are on the same page early on about what you are discussing and why you are discussing it. This will make it easier for both of you.

Stay steady
Don’t let your emotions drive you. If you have a strong personal relationship with this person, it can be easy for your feelings towards them to affect you in the moment. This can be particularly true when talking to people you care for, even if you think the difficult conversation is for their own good. It may be worthwhile writing in advance a list of reasons why the conversation is important, so that it is easier to remember the details.

Suggest solutions
If someone feels that they have been cornered with no way to escape, they are likely to be defensive. To avoid this, try to think of realistic solutions before the conversation. If possible, offer at least two. This way, the person is more likely to comply.

Be empathetic
Allow the person time to talk and to process their emotions. It can help to be honest with people, to let them know exactly where you are coming from and that you are finding the conversation difficult too. Saying things such as “This is a really hard conversation to have” and “I don’t want this conversation to impact our relationship” can help to make you both feel more comfortable by acknowledging the difficulty of the situation.

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Written by Liv Gardiner


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